"It's a major work," says St. Louis Symphony Chorus Director Amy Kaiser in the program notes for this weekend's concerts, "full of challenges: complex fugues, expressive segments, rich in harmonic details. It's a choral symphony, really." She's talking about the piece that takes up almost the entire program at Powell Hall, Brahms' "Ein deutches requiem" ("A German Requiem").
The late eighteenth century artistic movement known as sturm und drang (usually translated as "storm and stress") had already evolved into the pervading sensibility of the Romantic era by the time the earliest work on this weekend's St. Louis Symphony concerts—the "Piano Concerto No. 1" by Brahms—was written. But "storm and stress" of one sort or another lie at the heart of it and the other two pieces on the program.
Sturm und drang (usually translated as "storm and stress") was an early Romantic (late 18th century) movement in German literature and music that emphasized drama and conflict. Both Haydn and Mozart wrote symphonies that were seen as embodying the movement's approach.
The St. Louis Symphony's regular subscription season ended a month ago with a bang-up performance of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 the weekend of May 9th. But they've got a final encore concert for you this Saturday.
The OnMusic Dictionary (at dictionary.onmusic.org) defines attacca as "a musical directive for the performer to begin the next movement (or section) of a composition immediately and without pause." Lately the symphony has been experimenting with playing compositions by different composers attacca as a way of highlighting similarities between the pieces. This weekend's bit of attacca might be the boldest yet, following the prelude to Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" (first performed in 1859) with Arnold Schoenberg's neurasthenic 1909 "monodrama" "Erwartung" ("Expectation").
In his "Concord Hymn" Ralph Waldo Emerson describes the first shot of the American Revolutionary War as "the shot heard round the world." The same phrase has been applied to the shot that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914. This weekend the St. Louis symphony will be playing the musical equivalent of "the shot heard round the world." Let's call it "the chord heard round the world." Its effect was less violent, but no less revolutionary in its own way.
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra guest conductor (and fellow Rice University alum) James Gaffigan gave us a highly dramatic and immensely satisfying Mendelssohn "Symphony No. 3 in A minor," op. 56 ("Scottish"), Friday morning, along with an equally impassioned Brahms "Concerto in A minor for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra (Double Concerto)," op. 102. Symphony Concertmaster David Halen and Principal Cello Daniel Lee were the soloists in the Brahms, demonstrating that you don't have to fly in stars to get stellar performances.
This weekend (February 7-9) marks the return to the Powell Hall stage of Lucerne Symphony Chief Conductor (and fellow Rice University alum) James Gaffigan for a program of music by Mendelssohn and Brahms that puts two of the symphony's own in the spotlight.
As I have noted before, Ward Stare (who completed his tenure as Resident Conductor of the symphony in 2012 and is now in demand as both and operatic and symphonic conductor) is someone to watch.
"Beautiful" isn't a word you often hear applied to the twelve-tone music of the Second Viennese School, but I can't think of a better one to describe the performance of Alban Berg's 1935 "Violin Concerto" by soloist James Ehnes and the symphony under David Robertson Friday morning.